Ideological Prejudices Impede Constructive Dialogue on Tobacco and Health Policy
New York, NY, August 2000 -- The "war on smoking" between the ideological left and right continues while hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying every day from smoking-related diseases.
In the first study of its kind, "Bridging the Ideological Divide: An Analysis of Views on Tobacco Policy," the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) analyzed the opinions of the opposing ideological camps concerning tobacco policy. The study reveals that ideological stereotyping, name-calling, and ad hominem attacks between the two political camps are making constructive dialogue virtually impossible.
The report discusses published statements by columnists, publications, organizations and politicians on the political "left" and political "right." Attitudes on tobacco policy from opposing ideological camps show, however, that those on the political left are typically concerned with the adverse health effects related to cigarette smoking and propose strategies to deal with it, while the political right appears to remain silent, or even apathetic, on the issue. Yet, the political right fears that left-oriented tobacco policy is driven by a desire to promote a Big Government hidden agenda.
The ACSH paper is the first major effort to present the contrasting perspectives on specific topics related to tobacco control. The report identifies the major themes that spawn the disagreement between the left and right on tobacco-related issues, such as active smoking as a cause of illness and death, the health effects of secondhand smoke, and public knowledge of risks of smoking. Important questions have been generated from debate on these issues and are especially relevant to the upcoming election where tobacco policy continues to spur heated political debate.
Barriers to collaboration on tobacco policy exist, however, and are discussed in the paper. For example, both sides appear suspicious of the other and make accusations that each has its own hidden agenda. As a result, feelings of anger and distrust resonate and both the left and right fail to critically evaluate even their own arguments. Such an environment impedes progress related to reducing the deadly toll of smoking in the United States.
"The reality is that the arguments offered by members of both left and right include some valid observations, as well as some serious flaws which need to be openly acknowledged," says Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of ACSH.
"The time has come to turn down the heat and volume of debate and listen, respectfully, to what both sides of the ideological divide are saying about smoking and public health strategies," adds Dr. Whelan. "It is hoped that this report will be used as a stepping stone to encourage constructive discourse among the ideological camps."
The American Council on Science and Health is a consortium of more than 350 scientists and physicians dedicated to consumer education on public health issues, such as the environment, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals. ACSH has been committed for over 20 years to reducing the morbidity and mortality caused by cigarette smoking. This project was done in collaboration with Cliff Douglas, Esq., a specialist in tobacco issues, and was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.